Tennessee nuke waste processing company goes bankrupt. Are there implications for Texas?

Impact Services Inc., a Tennessee low level radioactive waste processor, filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy last week. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported yesterday:

An Oak Ridge, Tenn., firm storing 1 million pounds of scrap radioactive material has filed bankruptcy, leaving Tennessee environmental regulators watching the case “closely” to see what will happen to the waste.

Impact Services Inc. filed for Chapter 7 liquidation May 24 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del., and “shut its doors” on May 18, according to Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokeswoman Meg Lockhart.

“Staff members from the Department of Environment and Conservation’s Division of Radiological Health were sent to the site on Monday, May 21,” she said. “Impact also had staff at the facility, including a radiation safety officer. The material was secure and the company was in the process of trying to determine what its options are moving forward.”

The company, according to its website, is a radioactive waste processing facility that provides decontamination services to low-level radioactive component parts and scrap from commercial nuclear reactors.

Impact officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The Free Press report also said:

“…filings in the bankruptcy case say the company “does not believe that the current storage and processing of the low-level radioactive waste currently poses a threat of imminent and identifiable harm to the public health or safety.”

But the document goes on to say that the material “may pose a threat of imminent and identifiable harm to public health and safety” if not handled properly.

The company plans to return a large portion of the radioactive waste to the utilities that created it: 

Nobody is certain where the scrap metal will be disposed of, but the state of Tennessee told the Free Press:

“The company is saying that about 60 to 70 percent of [the 1 million pounds of scrap low-level radioactive waste stored in Oak Ridge] can be returned to the generators,” (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokeswoman Meg) Lockhart said. “If that is the case, it would leave about 400,000 pounds that would need to be addressed.”

The failure of Impact Services leaves a number of policy questions for the state of Texas, which has licensed a low level radioactive waste dump in West Texas.

My  first concern is the Waste Control Specialists, who operate the Texas dump, will say: “We’ll take it.”

In addition to concerns about additional trucks on Texas highways and limiited capacity at the dump, I’m worried about the availability and safety of containers for shipping waste. EnergySolutions, the nation’s largest provider of low level waste shipping casks, recently notified the NRC of a design problem with two types of cask, which WCS said might not meet accident survival standards. EnergySolutions removed the two types of cask from service, and there is no indication when the NRC will allow them to return to service.

I’m also concerned that Impact’s financial troubles may shift the burden from the company to government. From the Free Press article:

(Lockhart) said the state holds a $1.2 million surety bond ”o cover the liabilities incurred when a facility abandons their responsibility to maintain the site in a safe condition.”

I don’t like the precedent of a private company making money off of nuclear waste, then declaring bankruptcy and shifting the burden to the state. Texas is already on the hook for the WCS site, which will revert to Texas, along with the liability, once WCS’ license ends sometime in the next fifty years.

If the waste from Impact were to wind up in West Texas, there is also a chance that foreign-generated nuclear waste might end up in the Texas site, which is prohibited by the operating license. There’s a real possibility that it will be difficult to prove where the Impact site waste was generated. Additionally, if the waste comes to Texas and we discover that it is Greater Than Class C, which would also be a license violation.

Here’s a link to the Free Press article: http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2012/may/31/tn-bankruptcy-spurs-questions-about-nuclear/?local

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About Robert Singleton

By day, I work for a call center. In my spare time, I try to save my hometown (and planet) from a nearly constant onslaught of greedheads, lunatics and land developers. I live in a fictional town called Austin, Texas, where I go to way too many meetings.
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